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President Tony Tan and PM Lee send condolences on Aceh earthquake

6.5-magnitude earthquake in Aceh sends buildings tumbling, triggers frantic rescue mission

MEUREUDU, INDONESIA As the ground trembled and buildings crumbled, residents of the Pidie Jaya district in Aceh headed for the hills with a sense of deja vu.

Just 12 years ago, an earthquake killed thousands. This time, the figure is 97.

At least 105 shop houses, 125 homes and 14 mosques came tumbling, while a hospital and a school were heavily damaged in the early morning quake yesterday, reported the Jakarta Globe.

Both President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have sent their condolences to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Indonesia during this difficult period," said Dr Tan.

Mr Lee, who wrote that he was "saddened by the tragic loss of lives and widespread damage", also offered assistance. 

Mr Hasbi Jaya, from the hard-hit town of Meureudu, told AFP: "Everything was destroyed."

Mr Hasbi, who pulled his two children unconscious from the rubble of their home, added: "It was pitch black because the electricity was out. I looked around and all my neighbours' homes were completely flattened."

Ms Fitri Abidin in Pidie Jaya said she fled with her husband and children to a nearby hill after the quake jolted the family awake early in the morning.

TERRIFIED

The family were there for several hours until the authorities reassured them there was no tsunami risk.

"It terrified me. I was having difficulty breathing or walking," said Ms Fitri.

She said her husband grabbed her and carried her out of the house.

Indonesia quake kills at least 97
The quake destroyed many buildings in the district.PHOTO: AFP

The family's house did not collapse, but some of their neighbours' did. Ms Fitri was worried that three of her friends could be dead. The shallow 6.5-magnitude quake struck Pidie Jaya district in Aceh province at dawn as many in the mainly Muslim region on Sumatra island were preparing for morning prayers. The death toll climbed steadily as rescue crews combed through the ruins.

The initial figure of 52 dead was significantly revised up by the Indonesian military, which has taken over responsibility for the search and rescue operation.

"So far, 97 people have been killed and the number keeps growing," Aceh military chief Tatang Sulaiman told AFP.

"When we retrieve bodies, sometimes there is five, sometimes 10 corpses."

SOURCE: AFP

More than 1,000 soldiers and about 900 police officers were deployed to the worst-hit areas to set up shelters and evacuation points, he added.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told the press in Jakarta: "Our main focus now is to search for and rescue victims."

He said Aceh's health crisis centre has deployed six personnel, while the emergency response unit has deployed 40 others to provide victims logistical support.

"They urgently need medical staff, health equipment, medicine and instant food," he said.

Local disaster agency head Puteh Manaf said: "The electricity is still off. Some places have generators, but there are not many. If it rains, there will be disease."

OVERWHELMED

The sole hospital in Pidie Jaya was overwhelmed, with patients being treated on the grass outside or sent to hospitals in neighbouring districts with better facilities.

District health office chief Said Abdullah said nearly 200 injured had arrived since the quake, but many would not enter the hospital for fear of aftershocks.

"We are treating people outside. We took the beds out because nobody dares to enter the hospital," he said.

Another regional hospital, along with schools and other key infrastructure, had suffered serious damage in the quake, a national disaster agency spokesman said.

Indonesian seismologists said the latest quake was felt across much of Aceh province, with many aftershocks.

The US Geological Survey upgraded the quake's magnitude to 6.5 from an initial reading of 6.4, and issued a yellow alert for expected fatalities and damage.

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